In a landmark achievement, Tel Aviv University have 3D printed a small heart using human tissue. While the organ itself is smaller than one would need in a transplant, it is a massive step forward for bioprinting. The 3D printed heart is the most complex of its kind, containing vessels, collagen and intricate tissue layers. The researchers told Haaretz that they hope it will one day make organ donations a thing of the past.
Although many research projects have been exploring the possibilities of 3D printing cardiovascular tissue, they’ve never come close to a functional heart. This, as it turns out, is quite close to the real thing. This project also demonstrates the use of fully personalized, nonsupplemented materials as bioinks for 3D printing. In effect, they can extract fatty tissues from the patient and use it to create the organ specifically to suit their needs. Since the bioinks originate from the patient, patches won’t provoke an immune response, which removes the need for immunosuppression treatment.
This version of the 3D printed heart, while not perfect, is impressive. Future research could still iron out certain things. For example, it has the aforementioned imperfections in size and also in the pumping motion. “The cells need to form a pumping ability; they can currently contract, but we need them to work together,” lead scientist Tal Dvir told Haaretz. “This is the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart complete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers“.
Bioprinting a Functional Heart
The researchers produced patches that match the patients biology and eventually a heart with a proper cardiovascular structure. Both of these discoveries are crucial to understanding how to prepare and print an eventual functional organ. The heart’s height is 20 mm and its diameter stands at 14 mm. They printed it within a support medium using two distinct bioinks, one for parenchymal cardiac tissue and the other for blood vessels.
Although, it may not be transplant-friendly, the 3D printed heart can serve other possible uses. Drug screening and development may benefit greatly from its eventual application. While other researchers printed hearts using flexible materials and other such substitutes, the use of human tissue in this research gives it a range of further applicability that other such experiments could not possess.
Featured image courtesy of Tel Aviv University.